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Looking Buerhle in the Mouth

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Over the last couple of days, there has been some chatter about the Yankees’ interest, or lack thereof, in Chicago White Sox southpaw Mark Buehrle. The 32-year-old ranks sixth on Chicago’s all-time wins list and has made more starts in a White Sox uniform than all but Red Faber, Ted Lyons, and Billy Pierce.

As this should suggest, Buehrle has been a successful pitcher for a long time. Although he has won more than 12 games just once since 2005 and is never a threat to lead the league in ERA, he has been relentlessly average to above-average. Buehrle is no dominator, but he shows up and does his job with a minimum of fuss, working quickly with excellent command.

That Buehrle "gets it done" is not in dispute. How he gets it done is harder to figure. He doesn’t walk many, and is stingy with the home run. Though he is grounder-inclined, he is not what you might call a ground-ball machine. He gives up a ton of hits, some of which is attributable to his defense, some surely not. His average strikeout rate for the last three seasons is 4.5, a number that can charitably described as "troublesome." And yet, he has also had a 3.91 ERA in that time. Buehrle’s approach doesn’t make much sense, but it somehow works.

As longtime readers know, my rule of thumb on any phenomenon that has a limited (or no) reason for existing cannot persist for very long. This is doubly true for pitchers who have limited strikeout ability and are going on 33. Maybe Buehrle will last as long as Jamie Moyer, but that’s not a bet I would choose to place, nor would I choose to place it in front of the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

In any case, I suspect that Buehrle’s ultimate destination may be St. Louis. He’s a Missouri native and the kind of pitcher that Dave Duncan (if he returns) has done well with in the past. That’s just my instinct. Otherwise, Buehrle could be a good fit for the Yankees on a one- or two-year basis, but beyond that the odds are against the buyer. In any case, to repeat our mantra for this winter, kids first and always, especially above aged pitch-to-contact types, no matter how distinguished.